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Los Angeles:
Seeking the perfect beach —
An acceptable Southern California lifestyle

Guide to Los Angeles area beaches

Southern California life centres on its beaches, and unlike so many places, you can easily access most Los Angeles area beaches. Few are blocked by hotels, condos, or other structures, except at times in Laguna Beach, Malibu, and Newport Beach.

This guide will help you pick the Los Angeles area beaches you'll enjoy most in the time available, from Zuma Beach at the north end of Malibu to San Onofre at the southern tip of Orange County.

All have good surf, unless otherwise mentioned. All are along or near California Highway 1, except Santa Catalina, San Clemente, and San Onofre.

You will not need a car to visit many of these beaches. See the public transit information below.

Some "quality beach time" is a must for any visitor to southern California.

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Zuma Beach

Just north (actually just west) of Malibu, you'll find Zuma Beach County Park and adjacent Point Dume State Beach.

Zuma offers a wide and wonderful beach with great surf and facilities. Tall cliffs back up Point Dume State Beach.

Beyond Pepperdine University, along Pacific Coast Highway, California Highway 1, in Malibu, you'll pass several public beaches, but continue on to Zuma Beach, the cool place to bask along these shores. Coming from Los Angeles, you'll turn right to access a tunnel that leads to the beach on the left.

Although extremely popular with the teen and university crowd, Zuma is also a great family beach. There's room for everyone.

At Zuma, you'll find varying age groups and interests occupying specific areas of sand. Find your mates, or integrate.

In So Cal more than in anyplace else in the world, people group themselves by leisure time interests more than by family background or economic status. Surfers with surfers. Harley bikers with Harley bikers. Swing dancers with the same, etc. This allows considerably more social mobility than in most areas of the world.

One thing these groups agree on is the Zuma is one of the finest California beaches. Only some overly large washrooms and changing structures mar the natural scene.

Public transit: MTA line 534 from Los Angeles and Santa Monica. (All transit info on this page subject to change)



Malibu Surfriders Beach

Much of Malibu has very limited beach access (unless you are wealthy enough to own one of its beach front homes), unusual in California, which prides itself on its miles of free beach parks.

Marked public pathways do exist between some beach homes that give access to the water.

Time your use with low tide, and don't venture too close to the homes. (For obvious reasons, security can be tight around these wealthy and often celebrity homes. Residents may not be shy about calling the police.)

On the other hand, Malibu has a number of regular public beaches.

By far, the most interesting of these is Malibu Surfriders Beach.

Driving from Los Angeles, this comes up when you reach the Malibu Pier, just beyond the 22800 block of Pacific Coast Highway.

Interestingly, Malibu Pier is likely the second most filmed pier in the world. First place honours go to the Santa Monica Pier due to its proximity to Hollywood and interesting appearance, which has been featured in Baywatch, Ruthless People, and nearly countless other films and shows.

Officially named Malibu Lagoon State Beach, everyone calls this Surfriders Beach, as the surf along this long point often facilitates incredibly long rides, which are a joy to watch. The surf may not be high, but it is impressive at times.

On warm days, parking may be very difficult to find, but worth the trouble.

Along the point, in the distance to the right, you'll see the famed "Malibu Colony," one of the original clusters of celebrity homes in Malibu. A gatehouse prevents non-guest access, but you can easily walk along its beach at low tide. Again, don't get too close to the homes, unless you're not worried about being charged with trespassing.

Public transit: MTA line 534 from Los Angeles and Santa Monica.



Will Rogers State Beach

The closest beach to the many of the wealthier areas of Los Angeles, Will Rogers State Beach attracts a lively, fun crowd.

The sand at Will Rogers Beach comes in a wonderful shade of beige, but not as beige or tan as the bodies that hang out here. Everyone seems to love this beach, even with the heavy traffic that runs by it.

You'll reach Will Rogers by heading north (actually west) along Pacific Coast Highway (California Highway 1) from Santa Monica.

Public transit: If in reasonable shape, can walk from Santa Monica Hostel downtown. Big Blue Bus line 9 from downtown Santa Monica or MTA from Los Angeles. (From many areas in LA you'll reach Will Rogers quicker by connecting from MTA to Big Blue Bus.)



Santa Monica Beach

Just below Ocean Avenue and Palisades Park in Santa Monica lies Santa Monica State Beach, which offers a fine, wide beach, with great facilities.

A nice thing about Santa Monica Beach is its proximity to the many restaurants and cafes on the palisades above.

The highlight of Santa Monica Beach is its pier, which provides all the usual amusements. A police substation at the pier entrance promotes a family atmosphere.

Santa Monica Beach tends to be more crowded than some of the others on warm days because it's so easy to reach by public transportation from much of Los Angeles. However, it is a big, big beach, so there's always room for everyone.

To reach Santa Monica Beach, take Interstate 10 westbound from anywhere. This highway literally ends at the beach. Exit at Fourth Avenue or earlier at Lincoln Boulevard.

Public transit: Numerous Blue Blue and MTA bus lines head here.



Venice Beach

On the other hand, as thronged as Santa Monica Beach may be on warm days, the real action takes place next door at Venice Beach. This is the most unusual beach in the U.S.

Venice Beach offers a distillation of every eccentric behaviour in southern California.

We're not talking Middle America here. Venice is way out———way, way out. Venice can be fun, at least for a limited time.

Alas, many people shy away from the very wide beach itself, probably due to the homeless persons and dogs parked there.

The crowds stay along the famed Venice boardwalk, which offers a psychedelic carnival atmosphere, especially on weekends. If you are familiar with the St. Marks Place neighbourhood of Manhattan, this is its western mate—turbo charged with sun.

A highlight along the boardwalk is the Muscle Beach area, one of the few places where you can see people lifting 500 pounds outdoors. The basketball courts in this outdoor recreation centre were used in the film "White Men Can't Jump."

Public transit: Numerous Blue Blue Bus and MTA bus routes.



Be careful in Venice

Inland from the main streets that parallel the sea, Main Street and Pacific Avenue, you and your vehicle may not safe day or night. Moreover, once dark comes the beach area itself requires extra attention to safety.

If you stay at the popular Venice hostels near the beach, you may wish to venture out in groups at night, except on the busiest streets.

However, everyone should enjoy visiting Venice Beach during the day, one of the most fascinating neighbourhoods in the U.S.



How Venice got its name

You may be wondering how Venice got its name.

Borrowing famous names for its real estate developments is a tradition in southern California. Some ten miles to the east of Venice, you'll find Florence, in South Central Los Angeles.

Northeast of the Los Angeles city centre lies the wealthy enclave of San Marino, adjacent to Alhambra, another European transplant. Much of Steve Martin's Father of the Bride remakes were filmed in San Marino. Out on the desert, you'll find Johannesburg, Bombay Beach—and Mecca.

Californians merely borrow names. Arizonans, on the other hand, lift actual icons, as they did with the London Bridge, which was transferred to Lake Havasu City, along the Colorado River, stone by stone.

The real estate developers of Lake Havasu City thought they were buying the much more impressive Tower Bridge. True story!

In the case of Venice, its developers laid out a series of canals as a promotional stunt and named the area Venice to attract buyers. Although most canals have been filled in or left to cog up due to inattention, you'll still see a few.



Countercultural Venice

For years, Venice was the cheap place to live on the beach in Los Angeles, where poorer people could actually afford homes and apartments. Beatniks, hippies, skateboarders, new age evangelists all congregated here.

Nevertheless, that could not last forever in the vibrant real estate market of the 1980's that continued until around 2008. Not when you're a short drive away from Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, and other astronomically expensive neighbourhoods.

Fortunately, the demographic changes going on are not so advanced that you've lost the character of the old Venice.



Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Redondo Beach

South of LAX Airport lie the cities of El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach, all home to many single airline employees, who hang out on the beaches between flights. Although the average age of airline employees has grown older over the years, this is still a great area to meet singles in their 20s.

This area is also where the quintessential California beach band, the Beach Boys, formed.

Although you'll probably like all these cities, the nicest may be Hermosa Beach.

Hermosa Beach has a fine party hostel, the Surf City Hostel, 26 Pier Avenue, at the beach.

Hermosa or any of these beaches makes an excellent base if you want to hang close to LAX to rest up from a long flight for several days. However, this area is not nearly as convenient for sightseeing as staying in Santa Monica, which has the excellent Santa Monica Hostel. The Surf City Hostel is best for those with cars, unless relaxing on the beach for several days is your primary goal.

Note that much of the area east of El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach, can be unsafe, day or night, as is the area just east of the expensive hotels at LAX Airport.

Public transit: MTA buses


Long Beach

Although Long Beach does not have enough surf due to breakwaters to attract most beach goers, its "Belmont Shores" area offers fine beaches for small children and a pleasant vibe.


Huntington Beach — Surf City USA

In Orange County, not far from Disneyland, Huntington Beach prides itself on being THE centre of surf culture, including youth orientated nightlife. Think of a Bondi Beach in the States.

Surf City USA is city motto.

In many ways, Huntington Beach is a far more typical southern California beach town than most of those discussed above.

Its outstanding feature is one of the best beaches in the U.S., which is preserved as Huntington State Beach. The beach goes on for a long way and hardly a building blocks your view as you drive along Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1.

If you're travelling with teenagers, are university age, or a kid at heart, Huntington Beach is for you.

Among the attractions on Huntington Beach are some of the most beautiful people you will ever see. Living on the edge with too much sun exposure may cause people to age quickly in southern California, but while still young they often look outstanding with their tans and sculptured bodies.

Be sure to visit the International Surfing Museum while here.

Huntington Beach makes a good base for visiting Orange County attractions such as Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm, as long as you have a car. You'll be fighting traffic, however.

Public transit: Orange County Transportation (OCTA) or Metrolink rail to OCTA buses from LA Union Station.


Newport Beach

Wealthy Newport Beach, the former home of John Wayne, comes next.

Somehow, for the most part, like its most famous former resident, Newport avoids pretension.

Where Newport Bay runs into the sea is the famous wedge, a very popular surfing spot, which is worth visiting to watch some amazing rides when the swell is right or try them yourself, if brave and qualified.

However, note that you'll find nearly no parking for visitors in this residential neighbourhood. You may wish to avoid it. On a warm day, you can waste so much time finding a space.

From southbound Highway 1, veer right onto Balboa Boulevard and continue until the bay entrance, stopping at the Newport Pier along the way, etc.

Public transit: OCTA buses do not travel to the end of Balboa Peninsula, but they come within walking distance for most people.


Laguna Beach

Although It's still very much worth visiting, Laguna Beach, once a picturesque art colony, no longer offers affordable accommodation to starving artists and young travellers.

The moneyed live here now, but the town still retains some of its bohemian feel.

Unlike most Los Angeles area beaches, Laguna beaches are set in a series of coves, which makes them even more pleasant. At times, you may feel (well, at least a little) as if you're on the Italian Riviera.

If you can afford it, Laguna Beach is a nice place to stay. And even if just passing through, the Orange Inn provides a worthy place to stop for a California-style snack. Try its date shake, a thinner, less sugar-bloated version of a California classic.

Public transit: OCTA line 1.


San Clemente Beach

South of Laguna, sits staid old San Clemente, which lately has become more lively.

If driving south on its main street, El Camino Real, take a right at the Amtrak station sign onto Avenida Del Mar, and follow this road down to the fine city beach, one of DrV's favourites.

There is a fishing pier, swimming protected by lifeguards near the pier, and surfing to the north and south of this area.

San Clemente also has San Clemente State Beach, south of the city beach.


Public transit to San Clemente Beach

You have two excellent transit options to San Clemente Beach, Amtrak and Metrolink trains.

The San Clemente rail station sits literally on the City of San Clemente beach. You detrain just several steps from the sand. Both Amtrak and Metrolink regional trains serve this stop.

Amtrak and Metrolink make visiting this beach easy from the Disneyland area. Depart from the Amtrak station in Anaheim or Fullerton. These trains also roll in from LA Union Station, where you can connect from other transit choices.

You can also take a OCTA line 1 bus along El Camino Real and then walk down to the beach, or line 1 connecting to local bus 191.


Richard Nixon country

On the hill, near San Clemente State Beach sits Casa Blanca, Richard Nixon's former western White House, not open to the public. Photos of President Nixon strolling along the beach below, pondering the affairs of state, used to be de rigueur.

Nixon was born and raised in Orange County, and loved to vacation at this beach and at one near Miami. Apparently, once an Orange County beach kid, always an Orange County kid.

Elsewhere in Orange County, you'll find the Richard Nixon Library and burial place at 18001 Yorba Linda Boulevard in the city of the same name, near Fullerton.

The library are preserves the modest Nixon boyhood home (moved there from nearby) and an interesting collection of presidential memorabilia. It also hosts seminars and conferences.

Say what you will about him, but Nixon to his credit was born poor and never gained the wealth some politicians have by misusing their positions. In fact, after leaving the White House, the so-called Tricky Dick refused all activities he considered unseemly, including some that could have made his family wealthy.

Too bad he was not even more careful about ethics during his presidency. His financial behaviour does not make up for the abject crimes of Watergate, which were probably prompted by wretched paranoia. This was not a self-actualized man, one who ruled with confidence. Hence Watergate.


San Onofre State Beach

Just beyond San Clemente comes the Camp Pendleton Marine Base, a major U.S. Marine training base, which is especially ideal for practising beach landings. Obviously, keep out.

However, San Onofre State Beach, on the camp border, remains open to the public, and the nuclear power plant there adds a sense of adventure to your beach sojourn.

At the very south end of San Onofre used to lie the only tolerated clothing optional beach area in Los Angeles or Orange (or Santa Barbara) counties.

In late 2009, a California court upheld the desire of the California parks department to ban nudity here. Park rangers now cite those who try.


Going topless in Southern California

Surprisingly, for such a culturally liberal area, clothing-optional or even topless bathing is not permitted on beaches in Los Angeles or Orange County. You could get fined and perhaps even jailed.

California for decades has been a juxtaposition of the extremely liberal and extremely conservative, with a strong dose of libertarian thrown in. On this issue, the social conservatives won.

Blacks Beach near San Diego may be your only current option, but that of course could change.


Catalina Island

A favourite local beach lies off the coast.

A fine warmer weather experience is a cruise to Catalina Island, the former home of the Wrigley gum family, who once owned the entire island.

"Twenty-six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina awaits for me. Santa Catalina, the island of romance, romance, romance, romance . . .."

This ditty may overstate the experience—at least sadly overstate the experience of Dr. Voyageur—and it certainly overstates the distance of 22 miles—but the trip to Catalina is a pleasant one, unless you easily get seasick in the often rough waters of this cruise.

Boats leave from San Pedro (Los Angeles harbour), Long Beach, Dana Point (near San Clemente), Marina Del Rey (Santa Monica), and Newport Beach. You may find discount coupons at your hostel or hotel. Tour buses transport you to the pier.

Once at Catalina, glass bottom boat tours are available, and it is pleasant to walk around the town of Avalon, the port of entry, or to sun on a beach near the dock, although this side of the island has little or no surf.

You'll enjoy cruising out during the day and the going back sunset and dusk to see the lights of the Los Angeles area come on.

The Wrigley gum family willed that most of the island remain natural, at a very considerable potential financial loss to them, much to our benefit.


Avoid drowning at California beaches

Zuma, Malibu Surfriders, Santa Monica, and to some degree most beaches mentioned here face south—or somewhat south—and thus can get their highest surf during the summer and autumn Mexico hurricane season.

Be careful when the waves are large! They slam down hard—very hard.

In fact, use extra care at nearly all Pacific Coast beaches, as these are known for their powerful "rip tides."

These are not tides, but instead strong currents that run from the shoreline out toward the open sea.

When gripped in these, swimmers panic and exhaust themselves by trying to swim against the current to reach shore.

Instead, remember that rip tides run in narrow bands.

The secret is swimming perpendicular to the current—not against it—until out of its grip. Then swim toward shore in the calmer waters.

Keep in mind, too, that rip tides usually quickly lose momentum and turn back toward shore.

Thus, in many cases, you can just relax, float , and eventually be taken back toward shore.

Good advice is to swim near lifeguards, but keep in mind that it is not realistic to expect a guard to keep track of the fate of hundreds of people at one time.

You must take responsibility for your own safety by staying within your aquatic ability in surf as rough as southern California's.

Note, too, that, unlike in Florida, no continental shelf keeps the water shallow for long distances from shore. Thus, keep a close eye on children.

You'll love southern California beaches, but use some care.

For more introduction to your L.A. area visit:

Go to >> Introduction to your visit
Go to >> Choosing your base
Go to >> Santa Monica
Go to >> Why L.A. is so unique

For additional L.A. information:

Go to >> Off the beaten track L.A.
Go to >> L.A. at night
Go to >> Disneyland
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